No Oscar for the guv’s budget

Pub date January 15, 2013
WriterTom Ammiano

OPINION Given that Gov. Jerry Brown put out his proposed budget the same day that Oscar nominations came out, it’s tempting to make some comparisons.

Brown’s budget, like the nominated musical “Les Misérables,” has plenty of numbers, and will make some people cry.

But I take the new budget seriously, the same as every budget I’ve seen since I got to Sacramento. Unlike most of the recent budgets, this one doesn’t feature a big deficit. Give the Governor some credit for that, but let’s look at how he’s done it. Not all of it is pretty.

To start with, education gets a boost. That’s clearly what California’s voters wanted when they passed Proposition 30 in November. The budget will give more generous increases to the school districts that have more education challenges, and it boosts funding for higher education. We can cheer that.

It also funds the next steps for implementing federal health care reform. That bodes well for efforts to make sure all Americans and all Californians are insured. Under ideal circumstances, of course, we’d be talking about single payer.

There are other, less cheerful things in our future.

There’s an across-the board 20 percent cut to In-home Health Supportive Services beginning in November. This comes from an odd “optimistic” assumption from the governor that the courts that kept him from making those cuts earlier will let him do it now.

Child care funding is flat, which would be tolerable if it weren’t for past cuts. It’s hard to find a better investment in our state than child care. Kids in good child-care programs do better when they get to school. Child care allows more people to work and attend job training. Restoring child-care funding is critical for the state.

Keeping CalWORKS benefits at half of what they used to be is similarly shortsighted, as are cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, reductions in Medi-Cal provider rates and funding changes for students in higher education.

While preaching austerity, Brown keeps pouring money into a prison system that needs more reform. Sentencing and release programs could be altered to reduce the need for overstuffing prisons without risk to Californians. Overcrowding continues, with one women’s prison in the Central Valley at 180 percent of capacity. This is not stewardship that inspires confidence.

Prison programs to help people beat drug addictions and find jobs when they come out are gone. We are missing a chance for long-term reductions based on rehabilitation. Instead we continue to shuffle bodies around.

Spending choices are not the only problem. The governor skipped some ways of boosting revenue. What about the rules surrounding Proposition 13? Local jurisdictions would benefit from closing loopholes that allow corporations to avoid reassessment when property changes ownership.

I also want discussion of an oil severance tax. Here in the Bay Area — in Richmond and San Bruno — we’ve seen and lived with major downsides of the energy industry. I think it’s time that the oil producers who continue to make big profits pay a tax for the oil that’s taken out of California.

You can see that the Governor’s “director’s cut” budget doesn’t deserve a little gold statue — even if it is the best picture (fiscally) we’ve seen in a few years. We’ll look for silver linings when the Legislature starts working on our playbook.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano represents the 13th District.